Weaning and sleeping
Hi, this is my first time posting here. I have some questions and concerns about weaning. My daughter is 14 months old now. When she was born I thought I would wean her around 18 months, but now I'm not sure if I might want to wait until she is 2 or 2.5 instead (maybe help her immune system get through another winter). We have both had a wonderful time breastfeeding and it is still my daughter's primary food source. I don't see this changing anytime soon. My biggest concern with weaning is around sleep. I have nursed her to sleep since she was born. At different times we have tried to change this practice, but it results if far more crying (and seemingly trauma) than any of us can stand. So I am nervous about the prospect of weaning her; how will she go to sleep at night or take a nap in the afternoon? Will she be more able to understand the process as she gets older or, as one of my girlfriends has advised, will it just get harder? What can I do to help my daughter (and myself) prepare for this major lifechange? I'm sure there are plenty of moms with great advice out there and I would love to hear it. Thanks!
Re: Weaning and sleeping
Welcome, and congratulations on nursing your big girl into toddlerhood! It really feels like a pathbreaking thing in this culture, and so I understand your doubts and questions about where it's all going and how it might affect the rest of your life when she gets older.
My own experience nursing a toddler was that, as things were already going so well, it was just the easiest path to keep going and adapt as he grew and his needs changed. I loved nursing my son to sleep. It was like my "magic bullet" for an overstimulated, overtired, wild little boy. But you know what? At some point, it stopped working -- he still nursed, but it didn't always put him to sleep anymore. He was growing up.
We started getting creative with bedtime strategies around the age your daughter is now. For a time, I nursed him to sleep for naps and nighttime on a mattress on the floor of his bedroom. Once he was down, I could get up without waking him and go do other things. At some point, my husband took over nighttime duty, so once I nursed him to sleep at night, I wasn't nursing him back to sleep when he woke. Later on, I nursed him to sleep in his room, and when he woke in the night and needed us, he would just walk into our room and climb into bed, usually without even waking us.
With my son, by the time he was 2.5 years or so, he was ready for some negotiation about bedtime and sleeping. (By this age, he wasn't nursing to sleep at night any longer.) We used a reward system to encourage him to cooperate and stay in his bed to fall asleep alone. At 18 months or even 24 months, I don't think he had the cognitive skills to understand the reward system -- understanding that "later" does not mean "never" developed about halfway through his third year.
I think, if you ask around, you'll find that many nursing toddlers eventually reach a point where they ONLY nurse to sleep, or maybe that plus one early-morning nursing.
On the other hand, if you find that you are ready to wean completely before your daughter gives up that nurse-to-sleep routine ... it is possible. There will be tears and sadness and so forth, but if you are consistent, then she will learn pretty quickly that there is this new way of going to sleep. It's just something to get through, if you're going to do it. But perhaps hearing about how others have seen that need for the breast just gradually taper away will help you relax about the need to Do Something Now.
I'm interested to hear others' responses to your very thoughtful questions.
Re: Weaning and sleeping
We too have done away with the crib. The mattress on the floor works very well. And you are right, sometimes especially in the middle of the night nursing isn't putting her back to sleep. I appreciate your response, I think this is one of those times when I need the stories and support of other moms who have been there. I feel better already!
Re: Weaning and sleeping
My advice is not to stress yourself out about weaning on a certain time frame. Your toddler will change so much in the next several months, that it's almost impossible to predict how your nursing relationship will develop. Just stop and look at what is happening now. Are you both enjoying your nursing relationship as it is? If so, then don't worry about trying to change something now. You can always re-evaluate in a few months. I don't believe weaning gets "harder" the older a child gets (has the friend who told you this ever actually nursed a toddler??). It is a big transition at any age, and is best done gently and gradually. There are also alternatives to complete weaning. At any point that you feel it's necessary, you can set some limits and negotiate the process so that both you and your dd's needs are getting met.
Here is my experience, in case it helps.
My ds's nursing habbits have changed so much since he was 14 months old. My ds has always been a big comfort nurser, and the ONLY way to get him to sleep is to nurse him down, or ride around in the car for awhile! Yet, his nursing habits have changed A LOT. At 14 months he was still waking several times a night. By 18 months, he was sleeping a 7-8 hour stretch and then needed a morning "snack" before falling asleep again for another hour or two. After I got pregnant at 19 months, he suddenly started waking very frequently again, and I was stressed out about having to night-wean him, knowing it would cause a lot of tears and stress.
I decided just to wait things out and see what happened with the pregnancy. I gave myself permission to continue nursing through the pregnancy, or night-wean/completely wean him, depending on how things went. He is 27 months old, the new baby could be here any day now, and we are still happily nursing. He has changed so much! Sometimes he nurses during the day, but mostly it's just at nap and bedtime. I can ask him to wait a minute to nurse, and he is usually content with that. I can give him a "2 minute warning" that nursing time is almost done, and he will stop on cue, smiling and happy.
I can't tell you how shocked I was one night when I woke up to see him get up, drink some water from his sippy cup, and then lay right back down to go to sleep --without even making a peep for me! (he sleeps on a mattress next to our bed). Lately he has been sleeping straight through the night (10-11 hours!) and then just needs a bit of wake-up milk. This has happened on his pace. I moved him to a separate mattress, so he is not right next to me anymore, but I still nurse him to sleep in his bed and come to him at night if he asks. He still doesn't fall asleep for dh very well, and I'm a little nervous about how I'm going to handle bedtime after the baby arrives, but I'm confident we'll figure out a way to work it out.
I'm glad I didn't push the night-weaning out of worry for what might happen when the baby comes, and let him develop sleeping through the night at his own pace.